Every church faces two big challenges:

  • Reaching new people
  • Retaining new people

First, your church is called to reach new people in your community.

You have received marching orders from Jesus Christ to make disciples of all nations—starting with people in your own backyard (Matt 28:18–20).

Now, after you reach new people, your second challenge is to retain those people.

As you know, it’s one thing to connect with new people, and it’s an entirely different ball game to get them to stick around.

Here’s one essential key to encouraging your first-time guests to return:

Follow up with your visitors.

This isn’t rocket science or earth-shattering advice, but it makes a significant difference in whether or not someone will return. From making phone calls to mailing letters, there are several ways you can follow up with your first-time guests. But there’s one tactic you can’t afford to miss: email automation.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about getting started with email automation.

We’ll go over:

  1. ​What is email automation?
  2. 5 benefits of email automation
  3. 3 steps to effective email automation
  4. The 1 email automation tool you need
  5. Getting started with email automation

Here we go!

What is email automation?

There’s not too much to understanding email automation.

Here’s what you need to know:

Email automation is when you send pre-written and pre-designed emails automatically to people who take specific actions.

Before you write off email automation as robotic and impersonal, take a moment to consider how many types of these emails you already receive. There’s a good chance you receive daily or weekly automated email messages from a variety of people and organizations.

Think about it.

Did you sign up online for a discount with your favorite retailer?

If so, you likely received an automatic email with a coupon code.

Do you have an upcoming doctor’s appointment?

You may receive an automatic email notification with the details.

Do you have an upcoming bill to pay?

You may get an automatic email reminder.

What’s the moral of the story?

Email automation—if done right—can provide your church with several benefits, which leads us to my next point.

5 benefits of email automation

Email automation does so much more than improve your efficiency (although that is a nice benefit). It also provides your church with five real, tangible benefits.

Let’s check them out.

#1- People read emails

Most people regularly check their emails.

According to one study, 34 percent of Americans check their email throughout the day, and 39 percent of the people surveyed check their email 1 to 3 times per day.

Do you want to get someone’s attention?

Sending him or her an email is still one of the best options available.

Someone may not open your email, but at least he or she sees your name and message, which leads me to the next benefit.

#2- Keeps your church top of mind

Staying in touch with someone—especially first-time guests—will cement your church in their mind. In the business industry, this is what’s called top-of-mind awareness.

What does this have to do with your church?

Let me put it like this:

If your church is the first church your guests think about when they think about church, then they’ll be more inclined to revisit your church.

By creating an email automation, you can deepen the connection with your first-time guests and keep your church top of mind.

#3- Emails can be personal

The emails you send in your automation shouldn’t sound like a robot wrote them.

You want to send personalized emails.

You can make emails feel personal by doing four things:

  1. Write the email as if you’re talking to one (fictional) person
  2. Use the receiver’s first name
  3. Use second-person pronouns—e.g., you and yours
  4. Have the emails sent from a pastor or staff member’s email address

These tips will make every automatic email you send feel like someone just sat down to write the message that morning.

#4- Saves your church time

I don’t have to be a magician to know you spend a lot of time on email.

In fact, the average worker spends 28 percent of their time on email.

Email automation is a tactic that will save you a tremendous amount of time on email.

Email automation is something you can nearly “set and forget.”

After you write and design the emails for your automation, you can schedule sends and basically put it on auto-pilot.  

For any email automation you create, you’ll need to make sure it continues to work. But after your initial investment of time, you don’t have to worry about writing similar emails every day.

#5- Emails reach people on their phone

In reaching people, you can’t ignore mobile phones.

When it comes to emails, 61 percent of them are opened on a mobile device.

So, do you want to make sure you get a hold of people?

Make sure you send them an email—among other things.

3 steps to effective email automation

There are two doors in your church you need to open and close.

First, you need to open your church’s front door.

In other words, you need to connect with people in your community and lead them to participate in the life of your church. I’m not sure what this looks like in your church. But it does involve evangelism, community events, and promotion (e.g., social media ads, word-of-mouth, direct mail).

Regardless of what tactic you use to reach out to your community, your goal is to create awareness of your church and lead people to take one step toward getting involved.

In short, you need to lead them through whatever you designate as the front door of your church.

Second, you need to close your church’s backdoor.

After you lead someone through your church’s front door, your next goal is to compel first-time guests to get involved in your church—to help them get connected.

There are a ton of ways you can connect people to your church. Arguably one of the most essential things you need to do with a first-time guest is to get their contact information.

To obtain the contact information of first-time guests, many churches use what are commonly called connection cards. There’s not much to connection cards. They’re just a card, piece of paper, or online form you encourage first-time guests to fill out with their contact information (you can obtain additional information, but we encourage churches to make these cards really simple).

For the sake of following up with guests using email automation, the two most essential pieces of information you need to know is your visitor's first name and email address. Sure, you can get away with only an email address. But having someone’s first name will enable you to make your emails more personal (more on this in a bit).

We know that getting a visitor to fill out a connection card is easier said than done, so we wrote this helpful resource:

Alright, before moving on, make sure you have a plan in place to accomplish these three steps:

  1. Open your church’s front door
  2. Close your church’s back door
  3. Collect your visitor's contact information

By taking these three steps, you’ll be in a better position to successfully create an email automation for first-time guests.

The 1 email automation tool you need

There’s only one tool you really need to make email automation work:

Email marketing automation.

There are a variety of these tools available, and the best one for your church really depends on your needs. But here are some we recommend:

There are pros and cons to every one of these tools. I suggest taking the time to research, ask your friends what they recommend, and test them for yourself to see what meets your needs and church budget.

Getting started with email automation

Do you have an email marketing provider in mind?

Great.

Then let’s talk about an email automation plan for first-time guests.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  1. Plan a sequence
  2. Create your emails
  3. Measure results

Now let’s take a look at the nitty-gritty details.

#1- Plan a sequence

The first step you’ll need to take is to plan a sequence.

Let me show you what I'm talking about, and then we’ll dig into the details:

  1. Collect first-time guests’ contact information
  2. Add first-time guest to an email list
  3. First-time guest receives emails

As I mentioned above, you need to collect first-time guests’ contact information. This is the foundation to your first-time guest email automation. Without, you cannot take the remaining steps.

After you’ve collected someone’s contact information, you have to add his or her email to your first-time guest email list. This step will technically look different depending on what email marketing tool you chose.

Regardless of what email marketing provider you work with, you’ll need to make sure that all of your new first-time guests are added to the right email list or sequence in your account. This way they’ll start receiving the right messages.

Here’s one more point to make:

If you physically collect contact information, then you’ll have to have someone add this information in your email marketing. If this information is collected with an online form, then this process will be done automatically.

“Should I only use online forms to collect contact information?”

Nah, we don’t think this is a good idea.

It’s best to provide multiple ways for first-time guests to share their contact information. Some people prefer to fill out a connection card during announcements while others will be more inclined to complete a connection card on their phone, computer, or tablet. The main takeaway is to provide multiple ways for first-time guests to share their contact information.

One final point about collecting first-time guest contact information:

Make sure you have someone responsible for managing physical connection cards and adding contact information to your email automation. It’d be a shame to collect a bundle of new connection cards, and then fail to follow up with your visitors afterward.

“This is great, but what emails should I send first-time guests?”

This is a great question, and it leads us to the next point.

#2- Create your emails

There are a variety of emails you can include in your first-time guest email automation.

But here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Thank you
  • Next steps
  • Meet the pastor
  • About your church
  • Connect online

There are more emails you can add to this list, and you don’t have to include everyone.

Regardless of what emails you include, be sure to include a “thank you” and “next steps” email in your automation. Here’s why.

The “thank you” message needs to be sent the day after your worship service, and this email is arguably the most important one you’ll send.

In this message, the only thing you really need to include is an expression of thanks.

You don’t want to ask someone to …

  • Donate
  • Place their faith in Jesus
  • Get baptized
  • Join a group
  • Volunteer

All of these things can come later.

The only thing you need to do at first is to let your first-time guests know you appreciate their attendance and that they should expect a few follow up messages. That’s it.

The second most important email you need to send (not necessarily the next email after your “thank you” message) is a “next steps” email. In this email, your goal is to let people know the next step they need to take to get further involved with your church.

What is the next step you want people to take in your church?

Do you want them to join a small group?

Do you want them to consider volunteering?

Do you want them to participate in Sunday school?

Whatever your church defines as the next step you’d like first-time guests to take, focus on that message in the “next steps” email.

Don’t crowd your email with several different choices.

Just laser-focus on the one step you’d like them to take.

As for the other three essential emails you need to include in your first-time guest email automation, they’re fairly self-explanatory:

  • Meet the pastor
  • About your church
  • Connect online

In these emails, the goal is to always focus on the one thing you want to share.

Introducing people to your pastor?

Primarily talk about him or her, and let people know how they can meet.

Sharing your church’s values and beliefs?

Let visitors know what you’re all about, and encourage them to visit again. Be sure to include  how they can get in touch with you.

For these emails, feel free to adapt content you already have written elsewhere—like on your website.The content doesn’t have to be long, so don’t feel like you need to write a thesis paper. Just give people the meat and potatoes.

Need help scheduling these emails?

Here’s a suggested template:

  • Day 1: Thank you
  • Day 3: Follow up
  • Day 5: Follow up
  • Day 8: Next steps
  • Day 12: Follow up

Still not sure what emails you should write?

Here are two free templates you can review:

#3- Measure your results

The last step you need to remember in creating your first-time guest email automation is this:

Measure your results.

After you create your schedule, keep an eye on these two metrics:

  • Open rate
  • Click through rate (CTR)

If people are not opening your emails or responding to your requests, then adapt your emails to see what resonates best with your first-time guests.

Here’s the deal:

You’re not married to the emails you create.

From adapting to completely rewriting your emails, you are free to change them to drive better results—most notably, leading people to take a next step with your church.

Getting started with email automation

There you have it.

The complete guide to following up with your first-time guests with email automation.

Regardless of the size of your church, you can benefit from implementing email automation to stay connected with your first-time guests.

Remember, email automation is just one tool in your toolbox. It may serve as the primary way to stay top of mind with your visitors or as a support to making phone calls or sending letters.

In sum, be sure to follow up with your first-time guests to see them turn into members.  

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